Count My Engines

(guest post)

I own 8 internal combustion engines. Three cars (one’s a Suburban), a riding lawnmower, a push lawnmower, a generator, a chain saw, and a roto-tiller. (I opted for a battery powered string trimmer.) The craziness of this struck me one winter day when we had our generator going and I needed to go somewhere in the Suburban. Listening to the loud purr of the Suburban’s engine I wondered… why can’t I just plug my house into that? It’s easier to start, quieter and most of all, I’d only have the one engine to maintain instead of two.


The internal combustion engine was invented in the last half of the 1800s. In many ways it was significantly more powerful, portable and useful than the horse, the main power supply before its invention. It is also a very complicated piece of machinery. Pistons, valves, fuel supply system, spark plugs… lots of moving parts operating at high temperatures. In its day it must have been regarded as THE high tech gizmo.


It’s a wonder I have 8 of them. True, modern manufacturing makes them easier to make, but they’re still complicated, and a pain to maintain. It’s surprising that most of my gizmos aren’t built on a common frame that can accept a plug-in-able internal combustion engine. The push lawnmower, roto-tiller and chainsaw could share an engine. The riding lawnmower could also be my generator’s engine. The cars, of course, would have to be separate.


Why isn’t this done now? Or more to the point, why wasn’t it done back then? It was harder to make engines 50 or 100 years ago, it seems a natural savings to make one and have several devices that could accept an engine.


But this concept of using one device to do many separate tasks reminds me of “digital convergence”. Originally the convergence hype involved the phone, internet and television. The common gizmo to power those was the PC, today’s high tech engine. That particular convergence didn’t happen at all in the 1990s, though with Skype and Vonage and downloadable videos, it’s beginning to happen now. Today, especially with the Xbox 360, the convergence buzz surrounds the digital media center, with a PC becoming a DVR, DVD player, video game player, cable set top box and etc.


My point… these convergence products are taking a long time to win the hearts and minds of the buying public. As one pundit put it… “the only convergence product to succeed was the clock-radio”. Perhaps the convergence advocates should take a page from history and look into why the internal combustion engine was never made into a convergence product.


—Mike Davis
May 2006



long ax and sword versus pole arm at Norwescon 2006

for more SCA photos, click here